By Joel Amitai
Dan Bar-On is professor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at
Ben-Gurion University and has twice been chair of the department. Over the years
Bar-On has made statements in his writings, and signed petitions, that cannot even
by a generous interpretation be considered loyal to Israel.
Bar-On and Sami Adwan are also codirectors of PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the
Middle East), based in Beit Jala in the Palestinian Authority, whose "purpose is to
pursue mutual coexistence and peace-building through joint research and outreach
activities." In 2005 Bar-On and Adwan won a prize for their work from Goldberg IIE
(Institute of International Education), whose main sponsor appears to be the U.S.
Since the 1980s Bar-On has conducted several encounter groups between children, and
eventually also grandchildren, of Holocaust survivors and of Nazi perpetrators. From
there, Bar-On has branched out: in 1996-1997 he and other researchers held an
encounter between a single Israeli and Palestinian.
And as described in the prize announcement by Goldberg IIE, more recently Bar-On and
Adwan have "brought together teams of Palestinian and Israeli teachers and
historians to develop parallel narratives of key historical events as viewed by the
Israeli and Palestinian communities, translate them into Hebrew and Arabic, and test
their use together in both Palestinian and Israeli classrooms. . . ."
In other words, Bar-On views the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" as at best
symmetrical-and the operative phrase there is "at best."
Back in September 2002, at the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada or Oslo terror war
against Israel, Bar-On along with a hundred other Israeli academics signed a
petition circulated by Prof. Avraham Oz of Haifa University that stated (Bar-On also
signed a similar petition in May 2001):
"Urgent warning: The Israeli government may be contemplating crimes against humanity
[this line was printed in red].
"We, members of Israeli academe, are horrified by [the] US buildup of aggression
towards Iraq and by the Israeli political leadership's enthusiastic support for it.
"We are deeply worried by indications that the 'fog of war' could be exploited by
the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up
to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.
".Escalating racist demagoguery concerning the Palestinian citizens of Israel may
indicate the scope of the crimes that are possibly being contemplated.
"We call upon the International Community to pay close attention to events that
unfold within Israel and in the Occupied Territories, to make it absolutely clear
that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated, and to take concrete measures to
prevent such crimes from taking place."
The psych prof-himself a native of Israel since his birth in 1938-didn't seem to get
his Israelis right; I've checked the records, and the crimes and ethnic cleansing
don't seem to have transpired. But, unfazed by that misdiagnosis, in July 2006
Bar-On was among a similar number of Israeli academics who signed another petition,
this one sent out by Prof. Anat Biletzki of Tel Aviv University, which stated:
"The Palestinian people are again subject to horrific violence and unbearable
suffering. Particularly critical are the conditions in Gaza, following a long siege
situation, repeated Israeli killings of civilians and now an ongoing military
operation, a disproportionate response to the abduction of an Israeli soldier..
"The incarceration of democratically elected [i.e., Hamas] Palestinian
representatives by the Israeli army occurs at a time when they were showing signs of
pragmatism by endorsing all international agreements accepted by the PLO..
"IT is the duty of the international community to rescue life and oblige the Israeli
government to stop its military activities, respect the elected government of the
Palestinian people, resume financial assistance to the Palestinian government and
introduce genuine negotiations that will lead to a just peace.."
In other words, in the fighting in Gaza that began with Hamas's raid in which two
Israeli soldiers were murdered and Shalit was kidnapped, the aggressor was Israel
and Hamas was a party suing for peace-that is, in the view of Bar-On and his fellow
Bar-On portrayed things similarly in a piece he posted under PRIME's aegis after the
Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out. "As an Israeli, I felt terrible about the outbreak of
violence. I felt that Israel was to blame for allowing Ariel Sharon [to] make his
provocative, power-oriented visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in September 2000. I also
thought that President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak were not effective in their
handling of the Camp David encounter with Chairman Arafat, which led to its poor
outcomes in July 2000."
Later in the article he seemed to try to pass the blame around: "The murder of Prime
Minister Rabin, the massive Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli continuous
building in the settlements showed how deep and extensive was the drive to prevent a
solution, rather than enhance it." So there you have it: the Rabin assassination-a
crime committed by a lone individual who is imprisoned with no prospect of
release-along with "building in the settlements"-the construction of Jewish housing
in Judea and Samaria-balances the "massive Palestinian terror attacks." Methinks the
psych prof has a psychological problem: he has a soft spot for the Palestinians; he
can't really blame them for anything.
Indeed, "for the Palestinians, the 'dragging out' of the implementation of the Oslo
process by Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Barak raised also old-new Palestinian fears
of Israel's 'real' intentions. Over the past ten years, Israel has enabled one
million Jews, mostly from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, to immigrate to
Israel under the Jewish Law of Return." Think of it! How indeed could the
Palestinians have believed in peace when such crimes were being committed?
If you're wondering why the villainous Israelis kept behaving so malevolently, Prof.
Bar-On has an explanation: "The deeper level of the unresolved conflict has to do
with the fact that both the Palestinians and the Jewish-Israelis were not truly
ready to move forward with the political arrangement because they were incapable of
accepting each other's 'otherness.' I would like here to focus on the Jewish-Israeli
apprehension of the Arab 'other,' our ambivalence regarding our internalized
aggression and our fear of the end of the conflict.
"Our apprehension of the other is related to our deep mistrust concerning the
sincerity of the Palestinians' intentions. We are afraid that when 'they' speak of
peace this is actually part of a long-term plan to annihilate us.. Our ambivalent
approach toward the use of force and aggression causes us to feel both very strong
and powerful and very weak and vulnerable at the same time. This ambivalence
reinforces our self-perception as eternal victims and heroism [sic], still related
to the Diaspora. This ambivalence causes us to feel mainly the harm the other side
inflicts upon us and to be insensitive to what we are inflicting upon them. Our fear
of the end of the conflict is associated with the fact that many people have
constructed their identity around the conflict and its end will demand a fearful
reconstruction.. We will have to redefine who are we if we are not determined,
through our negation of the other, and the hatred of the others toward us."
If it sounds like psychobabble, it is. Israelis fear that Palestinians want to
annihilate them because they do; the evidence of that from Palestinian textbooks, TV
shows, mosque sermons, and opinion surveys, not to mention the Palestinians'
behavior (including the fact that any Israeli who strays into a Palestinian town is
likely to be lynched), is overwhelming. Israelis do not "fear the end of the
conflict" or need the conflict to "define their identity"; Israelis would dance in
the streets with joy if the conflict really ended. Why recognize these simple facts
when instead you can spread distortions about Israelis, buttressed by psychobabble,
as pathologically belligerent people addicted to a conflict?
Note also that Prof. Bar-On largely attributes these alleged pathologies to the
inbuilt identity of "Israeli Jews," their supposed negative baggage from the
Diaspora. Yet not in a single place in the writings of Bar-On that I surveyed,
including some lengthy academic papers, does he even entertain the possibility that
Palestinians' Muslim identity as a people could be a factor fostering some
unpleasant attitudes and behavior.
No, it has all passed Prof. Bar-On by. The discourse on Islamic militancy, the fact
that in today's world Muslims are embroiled in violent conflicts far more than any
other group and the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" seems to fit that context, the
empirical reality of "Islam's bloody borders"-Bar-On is obtuse to all perspectives
that might put his cherished Palestinians in a worse light. For him, Israelis are
"Jews"-subject to irrational fear and aggression; while Palestinians are just
"Palestinians"-people who seek peace, democracy, and justice.
Bar-On's writings are full of breathtaking statements and I am only offering here a
small sample. In a 2002 article about Israeli soldiers published in New
Internationalist, he wrote: "Should we encourage the soldiers to suppress their
conflictual feelings about acts they are committing against civilians (seen by some
of them as dehumanizing or even immoral acts)? Or should the psychologist help the
soldiers express these feelings and draw conclusions and quit the service?" Exactly
what Israel needs-loyal army psychologists who encourage soldiers to quit. And later
in the article: "We can observe a barbarization on the part of the Palestinians, in
the form of suicide bombers, forcing the IDF's response to become barbaric as well,
such as in the assault on the Jenin Refugee Camp."
This is a baldly libelous statement. The "assault on the Jenin Refugee Camp" was an
antiterror military action taken by Israel after a month, March 2002, in which over
130 of its citizens were slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists in buses and hotels.
It is well known that rather than bomb the "camp" and harm Palestinian civilians in
it, Israel sent its soldiers in for hand-to-hand fighting against the terrorists
that cost the lives of twenty-three of these Israeli soldiers. Well known, that is,
except to the likes of Dan Bar-On.
In a 2006 article on the Qantara website, Bar-On continued with the defamatory
psychobabble: "When rockets fall on the northern and southern parts of Israel, the
Israeli Jewish people shrink back into their primary sense of victimhood.. We have
experienced this sense of victimhood many times during the last decades so that it
has become like a second nature to us. It gives us the feeling of togetherness and
authorizes our government in our name to shoot at the enemy, including their
civilians, as they shoot at ours; as in war, like in war.
"We are well trained in this scenario and possibly prefer it to all other possible
scenarios of this region.."
Let me translate this nonsense: when you see rockets falling on Israelis, blame the
Israelis! And who is it that could get us out of our malady and lead us to peace?
"The Hamas government was elected through democratic elections by the Palestinian
people.. In the last months we have seen a bitter struggle within the
Hamas...between the moderate part of the Hamas, led by Ismail Haniya, and the
military part, led by Haled Mashal.
"The prisoners' document that was signed between Marwan Barguti and the leaders of
the Hamas in the Israeli prison could be a basis for a dialogue between Israel and
the Palestinian Authority. Now we are the ones who refuse to conduct such a
dialogue, less out of political wisdom, but out of feeling of superiority and
It's all our fault. Aren't you surprised Prof. Bar-On reached that conclusion?
But Bar-On pulled out all the stops in an article he published with Saliba Sarsar in
the Middle East Times last April 27, 2007: "The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in
Jerusalem and the ruins of Deir Yassin may be in geographical proximity, but a world
apart in the psyche of Jews and Palestinians. While the first commemorates the
systematic mass extermination of European Jews under Nazi occupation prior to and
during World War II, the second marks the village where Palestinians were massacred
at the hands of Jewish extremists in April 1948 and symbolizes Palestinian
dispossession and their struggle for self-determination.
"While there are fundamental differences between these human tragedies-and we have
no intention of comparing them-Jews and Palestinians have been steadfast in their
distinct interpretations of history, refusing to participate in each other's painful
memories and denying each other's most sacred reconstructions of the past..
"It may be not a coincidence that the new exhibit of Yad Vashem in the form of a
deep mountain tunnel opens up unwittingly toward the hill where Deir Yassin was once
located. That, for sure, was not the intention of the architect. It takes a new kind
of courage to recognize the symbolic importance and implications of both Yad Vashem
and Deir Yassin in order to go beyond them and envision a better future for both
Israelis and Palestinians."
For one thing, no massacre occurred at Deir Yassin that April 6, 1948; Jewish and
Palestinian guerrilla forces engaged in fierce fighting, and at worst some of the
Jewish fighters indiscriminately killed some of the Palestinian civilians in the
village, while also enabling (with an escape corridor) and helping (with a truck
convoy) many of the civilians to leave. Four days after the battle Arab gunmen
ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital and killed seventy-seven
Jews, mostly civilians including doctors, nurses, and patients.
For Bar-On to compare Deir Yassin to the Holocaust is one step away from Holocaust
denial; it is Holocaust trivialization. To say that "there are fundamental
differences between these human tragedies-and we have no intention of comparing
them"-does not help at all; it does not say what the differences are, and presumably
Prof. Bar-On with his psychological expertise knew that this was not the sentence
that would stay in readers' minds, but rather his article's clear equation of the
two events and unmistakable message that Jews were Nazis and perpetrated evil that
was the equivalent of Nazi evil.
In the problematic state of the Israeli academy with its considerable component
of seditious Israel- and Jewish-people-bashers, Prof. Dan Bar-On stands out as one
of the more egregious cases.
Joel Amitai is an independent researcher and filmmaker. Reach him at